If you're looking for something to do on a cold winter night, there's nothing quite like sitting in a chilly arena and watching a bunch of guys on skates go after each other with long sticks.
The newest thing in professional sports around here is a hockey team, the Rapid City Rush. We recently went to our first game—with free tickets, even, thanks to my spouse's friendship with and financial support for one of the cheerleaders. (No, it's not that kind of a friendship—for Pete's sake get your mind out of the gutter. She's a graduate student, working her way through school with the help of a research project he found funding for.)
But back to hockey. This was my first exposure to the game, and I discovered I was incapable of watching the puck as fast as the players could hit it. Part of the problem may have been that it looked about the size of a coat button from our seats halfway up in the grandstand. It would disappear into a tangle of sharp skates, padded legs, and flailing sticks. Then all at once everyone on both teams would be streaking down the ice toward the opposite goal, which I took as a clue that someone had hit the puck in that direction.
By the time I spotted it again, the puck would be hiding behind the goal or caroming off the end of the rink and spinning in an arc along the curved edge of the ice. Then someone else would either hit it or poke it with his stick and start herding it in another direction. One goalie or the other would occasionally ignore his instincts for self-preservation and throw himself in front of that hard object hurtling toward him with enough velocity to knock out his teeth.
Timeouts were announced at random intervals, for some reason I never did figure out. Every now and then, the crowd would either leap up and cheer or else groan and boo. I took these as subtle hints that one team or the other had scored, and was gratified to have my suspicion confirmed when new numbers appeared on the scoreboard.
My confusion over the rules, the scoring, and the location of the puck aside, I found the hockey game mildly interesting. What kept me from enjoying it, however, was the overwhelming noise. The brand new, state of the art PA system had apparently been designed to simultaneously deafen the audience and keep them from understanding what the announcer said. The crowd, periodically urged to "Make some noise!" contributed to the din with clanging cowbells and screams. Crashing music, flashing lights, and surround-screen ads and messages completed the sensory overload. By the time we headed for the exit halfway through the game, I felt as if I had been beaten with a hockey stick.
At that point, however, I did find a saner place from which to watch the game. The big-screen TV showed close-ups of the action. Without the extra noise of the arena PA system, it was actually possible to understand what the announcer was saying. There was no screaming crowd. The only interruptions came from the periodic hum of the hand dryers.
If they would only put a couple of chairs in there, the women's bathroom would be a great place to watch a hockey match.